Monday, November 29, 2010

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1 / *** (PG-13)

Harry Potter: Daniel Radcliffe
Hermione Granger: Emma Watson
Ron Weasley: Rupert Grint
Lord Voldemort: Ralph Fiennes
Bellatrix Lestrange: Helena Bonham Carter
Voice of Dobby: Toby Jones

Warner Bros. Pictures presents a film directed by David Yates. Written by Steve Kloves. Based on the novel by J.K. Rowling. Running time: 146 min. Rated PG-13 (for intense action violence, frightening images, and brief sensuality).

I’ve spent a good deal of time thinking about “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1” since seeing it. This introspection is not a surprise considering the direction the film takes. For the first time in this seven-film franchise, it seems its main trio of characters actually stop long enough to contemplate the full gravity of what is happening to them and around them. This is not what I expected from the penultimate episode of one of the most exciting franchises to find its way to the silver screen.

“The Deathly Hallows” is a dark, slow and brooding film. I don’t mean that as a criticism against it, however. For the first time since the first two movies in the series the filmmakers take the time necessary to establish the scope and seriousness of what the three main characters have gotten themselves into. Since they’re all grown up this time, the magnitude is more profoundly felt.

In many ways, this movie is more focused and intimate than any other Potter film. Although there are appearances by almost all of the adult cast members that have populated the franchise throughout its run, the supporting roles are much more abbreviated this time out. We get to spend a lot more time with just the three primary heroes, Harry, Hermione, and Ron. This is a pleasure, since we’ve watched these actors mature on screen from roughly the same ages as their characters. Only now do we really get to see them sink their teeth into these roles. Rupert Grint (“Driving Lessons”) gets a bit shortchanged here, as the plot is always abusing poor Ron.

At the opening of the film, the death of Professor Dumbledore (Michael Gambon, “The Book of Eli”) from the previous film has all the heroes on edge. There doesn’t seem to be much holding the powers of darkness at bay anymore and soon even the Ministry of Magic is taken over by Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes, “Clash of the Titans”). It doesn’t take long for Voldemort and his Death Eaters to find Harry and do some major damage to the ranks of good guys. Out of fear that more people will perish in Voldemort’s search to destroy Harry, the trio of heroes sets off to find the horcrux pieces they need to destroy Voldemort. Their adventure is bleak and nearly fruitless.

The photography by first time Potter cinematographer Eduardo Serra (“Blood Diamond”) sets the tone of the film in cold blues and overcast winter wilderness landscapes. The feeling of despair and helplessness is as inescapable for the audience as it is for the characters. Third time Potter director David Yates (“State of Play” BBC mini-series) slows the pace down to a crawl. I realized after it was over that rarely has so little occurred during a nearly three-hour film. Yet, I think this was Yates’s point. It isn’t just that the dark forces have risen to power that threatens our heroes, but the fact that nothing they try to do is successful. It’s like one of those weeks we’ve all experienced where we feel we’ve spent the whole week spinning our wheels and accomplishing nothing. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen this feeling captured so well cinematically before, certainly not in a popular action/adventure series.

I imagine that many fans of the film franchise will be disappointed in this depressing entry into the series. It is, however, quite a treat to finally get into the heads of the characters. Harry and Hermione, especially, get some well-deserved screen time and emotional structuring here. At several points throughout the series Dumbledore has said to Harry that it’s unfair that so much responsibility be placed on the young man. The first part of “The Deathly Hallows” shows us exactly what Dumbledore meant with his empathetic words. I never had any doubt before that everything would turn out all right for Harry in the end. Now, I’m not so sure. Here’s hoping that somehow, the good guys can win again.


Jimh. said...

I don't know. I would have liked Phoenix and Prince to have been just as introspective. We enjoyed this one, even though they bastardized the story a bit. It was much better handled than Phoenix. There was so much more story there that the movie makers seemed to expect you to know. So, I give this one 4 out of 5 stars...does that help?

Andrew D. Wells said...

Oh, I agree with you about the lack of depth in the previous two. I'm not knocking the movie for its introspection. Of course, by splitting the story into two parts they allowed themselves the time for this introspection that the previous two films just couldn't (although, I think the real reason Phoenix was so much less impressive than the others is because it is the only one that wasn't adapted for the screen by Steve Kloves.)

Upon a second viewing of Prince, I upped my star rating from 3 to 3 1/2. I suspect my opinion might change the same way on this one when I see it again. But with just the majority of the action taking place in the first 20 min and the final 20 min, that imbalanced middle where it takes them nearly two hours to destroy one horcrux has me hesitant to put it up there amongst the best in the series. Secrets is still firmly my favorite.